D23…and Me (and You)

D23 ExpoLike many other posts which I begin here lately, this one has been brewing a while, probably since the EPCOT 30 celebration put on by D23 back in *gulp* 2012…wow, has it really been that long? Well anyway, I wanted to say a lot about D23 back then, and since that time, my sentiments have only grown. I feel that I should preface this by saying that, yes, I am a charter D23 member. Growing up in the 1980’s and falling in love with the Walt Disney World of that time, and then EPCOT Center, I was lucky enough to have parents who were equally as interested and full of love for the parks. As a result, we subscribed to Disney News in our small town of Sharon, Massachusetts, and even joined the Magic Kingdom Club when it was available as a non-corporate membership. I still have that vinyl tote bag and gold membership card that came with the yearly fee to join. So joining D23 seemed like a natural thing to do, to get more knowledge and information about something you love. You got a slick magazine full of interesting articles on current and historical Disney, and the ability to attend special events. More importantly, I felt like I was supporting an arm of the company which held the same values and love for Disney past that I did. So I gladly joined and am a gold member to this day.

There has been some sharp criticism of D23 itself by hardcore fans, noting the cross-promotion or really over-synergisation (if that’s not a word. it is now) of whatever current flavor-of-the-month Disney Channel, Disney Jr., or Disney Consumer Products was strutting out on display. I do agree that most of those who joined D23 did so for the historical aspect; the archives, the trivia, the peek or entrance into otherwise unseen experiences. However, much as we like to think we are Disney’s most important fans (those with a devout love of the company’s storied past achievements and promise for the future), who will put our wallets where our mouths are when presented with the right choices, there simply aren’t enough of us to warrant a separate, exclusive club, without dipping into the overflowing pond that is families, kids, and more kids. After all, who would buy all of the things without the constant suggestion from kids about how they HAVE to have the newest whatever from the newest show on Disney Jr.? I’m oversimplifying of course, but obviously the mass-market is where the money and the success is. Bottom line, for now, you have to endure the latest Disney pop sensation to justify an archives exhibit, presentations by Tony Baxter, and other things that make a Disney nerd’s heart go a-flutter. In a perfect world, that wouldn’t be the case, but there you go.

Now where the concept of D23 just explodes (which is also what happens to the brains of most attendees), is at the special multi-day events, where the best and the brightest come together to bring you, well, the best and the brightest insights into Disney’s past, present, and future, through concept art, Imagineering processes, music, construction, and more. Many times, these stories are told straight from the horse’s mouth, when present or retired Disney cast members, Imagineers, Legends, and archivists share the information.

The first of these events was the D23 Expo in 2009. At that time, I was personally just starting down my blogging and “public” (for lack of a better term regarding my forays into the social media channels of the Disney community) path of Disney love. The concept of me leaving my three children (the youngest not even one at the time) and flying off to the far-off country of California to experience this “Expo” chock-full of Disney history and more, was beyond foreign to me. I’ve mentioned before that before my first visit to California (which I’ll expand on in a moment), the idea of flying to California just seemed an unreachable, unattainable, unthinkable option. What can I say, I was (not-so-)young and uninformed. Before my stint on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now Disney Parks Moms Panel) and the training weekend involved, I had *never* left my children for more than a few hours or a sleepover at Grammie’s house. Meeting friends in the local Disney community along with being on the panel led to the desire to simply do more; learn more, experience more and, as silly as it sounds, live more. Without straying off-topic too much, let’s just say I was a very sheltered person in many ways for many years. Painfully shy in person (ok this is still pretty true today), I had zero self-confidence and pretty much lived my life the way I always had, because it’s all I knew. Again, I don’t want to stray too much because that’s really another whole blog post for perhaps a different site altogether, but I must note that I by no means didn’t enjoy or appreciate my role as a mother to my children. But what followed in the months after I began blogging and doing more was that the whole world (though I still stuck to the Disney areas for the most part) opened up to me. So, while I missed out on the first D23 Expo, and followed along on live streams and tweets and instagrams of friends there, I decided that I could and would attend the first Destination D here in Walt Disney World. Again, as corny as this must sound, that event really changed my life.

D23Expo2015The Destination D events are held on the even years in between the Expos (except for the first WDW one which was in 2011), and are smaller, more concentrated, less stressful events focusing solely on a particular aspect or two of Disney history. The first one was held in Disneyland and focused on just that: Disneyland. I missed that one too, because of that whole California-being-a-far-off land-that-I-still-couldn’t-possibly-get-to thing. The next one, in Walt Disney World, focused on vintage WDW to celebrate the resort’s 40th birthday (and also combined a very hot, very arduous scavenger/trivia hunt which has not been duplicated since).

To say I fell in love, would be a very severe understatement. The things we got to see were like viewing my childhood on a highlights reel, with bonus features of the stuff I missed before I was born. We heard from some of the original folks involved in the creation of Walt Disney World, from its inception to land purchases to infrastructure to making it all a reality. As a fan like most all of us in the room were, hearing these amazing tales and insights was such an honor. The real hit of the event were the three Imagineers, Jason Surrell (now with Universal but whose spirit still very much haunts the Disney community), Jason Grandt, and Alex Wright. These three had been making their presence and personalities known for months on twitter, and seeing them interact in person was a treat. Like a set of brothers giving each other an increasingly harder time each time they spoke, it was great fun, along with the fact that they shared wonderful information about their projects and the company. Oh, and to top all of that off, Richard Sherman appeared to play and sing our favorites, along with the surprise arrival of the original Dreamfinder, Ron Schneider, in full costume, with Figment. Yes, 8 year-old me was in heaven. In addition, I had the joy of meeting people I had only ever interacted with on twitter, and realizing this was actually real life. So I decided then and there, that I would make every effort to attend every future D23 event like this that I could.

Despite this new-found enthusiasm for Disney history, the Disney community, and D23 events, California and the 2011 D23 Expo still seemed sooo out of reach. When a couple of friends showed me how it could actually be affordable (ahh, I miss airfares to CA for under $300…) and I was able to work it out with my family at home, I finally took that giant leap and got myself to Disneyland. And THERE, my life truly changed. As I’ve written before, I fell head-over-heels in gushy, messy, ridiculously over-the-top in L-O-V-E with Disneyland. Everything people had warned me I wouldn’t like about Disneyland (it’s so small! it’s old! there’s so much more at WDW!) were the exact reasons I fell in love. It was perfection to me, wrapped up in a tiny little jewel-box of a park, drenched in history and dripping in emotions. Emotions I didn’t really know what to do with. I had never been a Disneyland local. I hadn’t grown up with that park, or during the time of Walt’s direct impact on it, so why was this place affecting me so? Maybe I had just been a WDW local for too long, and experiencing something new yet still familiar was just the right answer to an equation I didn’t know I’d tried to solve. Maybe it was the people I was with, sharing stories of their childhood memories there as well as park history and lore. Whatever it was, I drank it all in, and didn’t want to leave. As a result, I spend most of my time in Orlando trying to figure out how I can get back to Disneyland. And now I seem to have gone off on a tangent.

Well, really, it’s not too much of a tangent, since D23 is what brought me into the world of Disneyland, making it attainable and within reach, and worth getting to (not that Disneyland isn’t worth getting to on its own, but as an east coast girl who’d only ever been as far west as Chicago one time, having that much more reason to fly all the way to California was just what I needed). Since then, I went back to Disneyland for the Destination D in 2012, attended the amazing EPCOT 30 event, back to Disneyland for the 2013 Expo, the second Destination D in WDW, and now, the 2015 Expo will begin in just a few days and I’ll be there.

You can find hundreds of accounts of the events and happenings within these D23 events, from live blogging to play-by-plays to full video of presentations. But what those can’t convey are the the feelings that come with seeing these sometimes once-in-a-lifetime events in person. Beyond the big Hollywood stars that appear during the Studios presentations, or even the oft-anticipated news from Parks & Resorts on the Next Big Thing, it is the less-publicized little gems where you hear those first-hand stories, or see those never-before-seen photos or film footage of extinct attractions or concept art that really draw me to D23 and its productions. Sure, there are countless hours spent waiting in line to secure a seat at the bigger showcases, but they are for the most part worth it. And those gems will show themselves, and you’ll find yourself having another eye-opening epiphany of, “wow, this is why I became a Disney fan.”

D23 AppAnd to think, I initially intended this post to be a sort of planning guide or tips for getting the most out of the D23 Expo…well, in a way, perhaps it is. Because getting the most out of any event, is remembering and realizing why you wanted to take part in it to begin with, right? You could focus on the lines, the fact that some will get shut out of seeing presentations they want to see, some merchandise you really want may be sold out, and the parks will be extra crowded. But, you are enveloped in history and surrounded by love for a company and a place and people who share that love. And you get to do it all right across the street from Disneyland. What could be better? So if you haven’t ever been to a D23 event or an Expo, think about why you want to go and focus on those things as you look at the schedule or plan your attack on the day. You won’t see everything. You will be tired. You will probably even get cranky. But that’s okay. When it’s all over, you may find you even miss those lines, and what you got to experience at the end of them.

So, a heartfelt thank you to D23 for making me sit up and take notice of my passions and things I could do to further develop them and even grow a bit as a person because of it. Now I’m flying to Disneyland for the 8th time in 4 years like it’s nothing. And I couldn’t be happier with where I’m heading.


 

To follow along with my D23 Expo 2015 adventures, add me on twitter: @zannaland, instagram: @zannaland, facebook.com/zannaland, or even snapchat as zannadeux. I may blog during the Expo, but most likely my updates will be on the above channels, as I tend to spend all my possible hours not at the Expo in Disneyland.

I’m excited to share my experiences with you and hope you enjoy following along. And if you were on the fence about joining D23, maybe I’ve convinced you a little bit to jump over to this side. If you’re already convinced and attending the Expo, I hope to see you there! I do have that shy/awkward thing going on, but I still love meeting new people at these events!

For all of the official scoop on the D23 Expo 2015 presentations and events, follow @DisneyD23 on twitter, facebook and instagram too. You can see a schedule of all the events too and more in-depth descriptions of the major stage presentations.

By way of disclaimer, I was provided with a single media pass for the D23 2015 Expo. That has not swayed my opinions in any way, all of the above is really me and views, like ’em or not. 

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About Suzannah Otis

Boston girl living and blogging in Walt Disney World's backyard. Wife, Mom of 3, coffee addict, lover of travel and adventure.